The rise and rise of Robert Lewandowski

Mario Gomez and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar both have more goals and bigger reputations, but Robert Lewandowski showed against Bayern Munich on Wednesday  – and will likely show at EURO 2012 – he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Europe’s best strikers.

Robert Lewandowski has developed into one of Europe's premier goal-getters at Dortmund this season

Few outside of Poland had heard of Lewandowski when he joined Dortmund from Lech Poznan for what looks now like a ridiculously cheap €4.5m in 2010. It comes second only as ‘a bargain’ to the laughable €350,000 Dortmund paid for Shinji Kagawa, and while the Japanese international has already attracted Europe-wide interest from some of the continent’s biggest fish, it won’t be long before Lewandowski is on the ‘wanted’ lists of quality purveyors of coaching everywhere, if he isn’t already.

“Pace, two-footedness, a strong header of the ball, and exceptional technique,” are the qualities Jürgen Klopp has highlighted in his leading goalscorer, and were it not for Gomez’s four penalties this season and Huntelaar’s six, Lewandowski would be even closer to picking up the Bundesliga’s top scorer crown. His polished display against Bayern was in stark contrast to the anonymous performance of Gomez, and shows why the Pole should be considered alongside – if not above – the likes of the top-flight’s current leading scorer as he brings so much to Dortmund’s game.

  • GOALS – Lewandowski clearly ‘knows where the goal is’. Already top scorer in the Polish top flight in helping Lech to the title in 2010, eight goals in 15 starts last season was a reasonable return, but 20 in 30 this season is remarkable. The first Dortmund player to reach the 20-goal mark in a Bundesliga season since Stéphane Chapuisat in 1991/92, Lewandowski scored and struck the woodwork twice in just four shots against Bayern, while his goals this season have come from 52 strikes on goal – Gomez’s, by comparison, from 47, Huntelaar’s 48.
  • MOVEMENT AND TOUCH – Gomez has certainly worked hard on this aspect of his game this season, drawing praise from Jupp Heynckes for doing so, but Lewandowski still remains superior in this regard and the equal of Huntelaar. His touch is often wonderfully assured, while his intelligent movement allows Kagawa, Kuba et al to look good when their through balls find him. “I was in the right place,” was Lewandowski’s humble appraisal of his improvised flick beyond Manuel Neuer, though it’s safe to say that it is unlikely Gomez, for one, would have been able to score such a goal. Eight assists – the same as Huntelaar, and far in advance of Gomez’s three – point to a selfless streak that dovetails perfectly with Jürgen Klopp’s 4-2-3-1 formation, which needs a lone striker who can hold the ball up and bring in the attacking midfielders behind him – something Lewandowski does better than Lucas Barrios, who got six assists with his 16 goals last season. Klopp’s decision to play Lewandowski as a second striker last season, and not to use Barrios in that role, speaks volumes.
  • INDUSTRY – More than the backheels to tee up shooting opportunities for others, and the lay-offs to team-mates to retain possession, Lewandowski works incredibly hard for the team. Even in stoppage time against Bayern, the Pole was chasing back to dispossess Arjen Robben, epitomising the bust-a-gut spirit that has taken Dortmund to one – and almost two – Bundesliga titles.

    EURO 2012 co-hosts Poland will reap the benefits of Lewandowski's progress this summer

His exploits are all the more remarkable given that this is only Lewandowski’s second season in the Bundesliga, and that he would not have even been first-choice for Klopp but for Lucas Barrios’ injury at last summer’s Copa America. Aged just 23, Lewandowski is three years Gomez’s junior and five years younger than Huntelaar, and so still has a lot of time to improve. It will be interesting, however, to see how he handles the greater expectation that will no doubt be piled onto him ahead of next season.

A further worry for Klopp and Dortmund fans is that Lewandowski has not yet been tied down to a contract beyond his current deal through to 2014. “We’re disappointed by the offer,” foolhardily announced Cezary Kucharski, Lewandowski’s agent, on Polish TV recently after Dortmund had proposed an improved deal. Kucharski received a swift public reprimand from the club for making his dissatisfaction public. His client merely declared: “I don’t know anything about an offer or the figures involved…all I’m interested in for the moment is the Bundesliga and EURO 2012.” Bayern are already counting the cost of that single-mindedness; some of the continent’s footballing heavyweights may be doing likewise come June.

Ian Holyman

Eurosport 2 Bundesliga commentator

The live action starts on Friday with Stuttgart at home to Werder Bremen from 20:30CET before the Ruhr Valley derby on Saturday – Schalke v Dortmund at 15:30CET. Our Half Time programme will round up all of Saturday’s games at 17:30CET before Bayern Munich play host to Mainz from 18:30CET. Another derby, Mönchengladbach v Cologne, is the first live encounter of Sunday at 15:30CET before Freiburg take on Hoffenheim at 17:30CET and we round up all the Week 31 action from 19:30CET on Sunday.

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